Cultural micro-icon and probable ascot wearer James Wolcott is trolling for hits again. I shall oblige the greased (just a dab, please) vienna-sausage twiddler by taking him half-way seriously. More, and I might choke on a small bone.

Whatever one might say about Heinlein’s talent and character, worldly he was not.

No, of course not. Whatever one might say about Heinlein’s talent and character, if he were worldly, he would agree with James Wolcott. Using a simpleton’s definition of worldliness, Heinlein would surely qualify. But we must never confuse the quality of worldliness with merely being well traveled, must we?
Still, he was well traveled.

He had letters of introduction to prominent persons in many places, which meant he usually had a little help navigating viscous local bureaucracies. Newspapers occasionally took the trouble to interview him. This prominence helped. Sometimes.
There was the unsuccessful struggle to convince the British consul in Denver, for instance, that you could travel anywhere in the Commonwealth on a visa issued by his office. There was the Australian requirement that tourists file income tax forms before they leave the country. There was the South African requirement that train reservations be made a month in advance, in person, and preferably in Afrikaans…
The description of South America is a prose poem to Latin courtesy and civilization. (Because of Virginia Heinlein?s aversion to flying, they took a tidy passenger cargo ship from New Orleans and through the Panama Canal to Chile, and then went east across the southern cone by train). Heinlein even admired the Argentine dictator Juan Peron?s ability to speak at length with no semantic content. Heinlein declared Uruguay a welfare state that worked. He admired the free-market dynamism of Brazil…By the time the Heinleins left the continent, the book threatened to become tedious for lack of something to criticize.
Fortunately, the next major stop was South Africa. Heinlein was suitably appalled by apartheid. He had the extra incentive that being a monoglot English-speaker already put him on the wrong side of a lot of minor officials…
Indonesia was the only country where the Heinleins ever felt threatened, though nothing bad happened to them there. They visited Singapore before it became spic-and-span and high-tech, but liked it anyway for much the same reasons they had liked Brazil. On the passenger cargo ship to Australia…the Heinleins meet the sort of shady people who usually get introduced at the beginning of an adventure story…
Heinlein liked what he saw of Australia, but scheduling problems made it impossible for them to see much outside Sydney. He devoted a great deal of space describing the unusual liquor laws…
Apparently, the pit of misery, the region without hope, the most god-awful place in the whole southern hemisphere circa 1954, was New Zealand…This is the only piece of travel literature I can recall in which the writer truly, deeply hated a Post Office system…for once the Heinleins forbore to seek private hospitality.
They did have a letter of introduction, to a former prime minister no less. Heinlein would not use it, however, because it would have been so difficult to stop himself from telling his host how much he hated his country and everything in it.
Heinlein does record one good thing about the visit: a nice young woman at a zoo showed him and Virginia a kiwi. This was just before the Heinleins left for the airport. Virginia had dropped her objection to air travel in order to leave the country with the greatest expedition.

So we can see that mere mileage is not enough. One simply must have a properly cultivated comprehension of the facts one is presented with. As the article at The Heinlein Society continues…

His apocalyptic understanding of the Cold War has become sufficiently alien half-a-century later that it takes a certain anthropological sympathy to grasp it.

Well, there you have it. Wolcott lacks anthropological sympathy. How could he possibly sympathize with the following sentiments?

I came back to the U.S. convinced that it was an even better country than I had thought it was…But I came back, too, convinced that our peril was very great and our friends very few. The extent and the viciousness of the propaganda campaign against us must be heard to be believed…

Travel all you want. If you return home with certain firmly held opinions, it will all have been in vain.

Envy and hate are the inevitable concomitants of wealth and power; we have been uneasily aware of this and have tried to curry favor wherever we could. But it is not possible; we are hated not for our behavior but for what we are — and they are not…

You can take the boy out of Kansas City, but you’ll never take Kansas City out of the boy. And perish the thought that you might evince something so terminally uncool as uncritical patriotism. Take it from a certain influential contributing editor at Vanity Fair, the folowing quote can’t hold a patch to Ray Bradbury…

England, in the days of her strength, paid no attention to what other peoples thought of her; she acted in her own best interests as she conceived them to be and ignored world opinion. We should learn from our predecessor at least part of this lesson: never let a decision be swayed by what the neighbors will think, for they will gossip about us whatever we do. Let us be honest and brave – but not politic.

It just occurred to me that there is such a thing as The Heinlein Society, seventeen years after his death. Does anyone suppose that there will ever be a Wolcott Society?
Yeah. Me, neither.
But if a certain influential contributing editor at Vanity Fair should ever want for Heinlein info, he could do worse than to seek out the critical pages of Alexei Panshin. Now, I love Panshin’s Anthony Villiers novels (Torve the Trog, visible here on the lower right, totally rocks) but his H-crit has more than a whiff of sixties idealism gnawing its own entrails. It verges on Rob Reiner as The Meathead…

So where had things gone awry between us? Where had the line been drawn?
From Heinlein’s side, it had to be the issue of Communism.
I’d asked Heinlein what could justify bomb tests. And he’d replied, “The threat of Communist aggression.”
To Heinlein at that hour, this was a sufficient answer to just about any question I might pose. It was where his line was drawn…
I, on the other hand, was no more convinced of the reality of the Red Menace than the rest of my generation. That was a fixation of our elders.
Our attitudes would be expressed by the movies Dr. Strangelove and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming a few years later. We thought that through some horrible miscalculation of brinksmanship, the Bomb might go off, but we never expected to see the Red Army march into town.
Not only did it seem that Heinlein had his tail in a knot over something that wasn’t going to happen — and which, in fact, never did happen in the space-time continuum where he and I lived — but it also appeared to me that by opposing Communism so singlemindedly and self-righteously, Heinlein had discarded all his previous knowledge and perceptiveness and turned his back on the broader frame of reference he’d introduced me to in order to revert to a simpler state in which the only thing that mattered was who was to be top dog.

Top dog? That’s all he could see? Time out for a historical anecdote. My family on my father’s side can trace its roots back to the Ukraine and beyond. For my grandfather’s generation, the Red Army actually did march into town, no kidding, and they were in no mood for backchat. End result? Nothing pleasant. I’m told the town is no longer on the map. My grandfather and his parents had already left for America. The folks who chose to stay on (it was their home, after all) ended up dispossessed, or dead, or shipped off to the gulags. A relative handful fled to Germany to start new lives. They had been left with nothing. Top dog posturing? What a fool.
Wolcott ought to love it.

In the spring of 1960, Robert and Virginia Heinlein made a trip to Russia to look the Communist beast in the eye for themselves. On May Day, one of those major Soviet holidays where tanks and missiles used to pass in review before Communist leaders standing on the tomb of Lenin in Red Square, the Heinleins were in Moscow for the parade.

How very worldly of them. In the simple, uncritical interpretation of the word.

That day, a U.S. spy plane was shot down 1500 miles inside Russian territory. When the plane went missing and it wasn’t yet clear what had happened to it, the U.S. government issued a statement to the world. We said forthrightly that a weather plane had gone astray.

Good heavens. We lied.

When the Russians officially announced the incident on May 5, the Heinleins were in Alma Ata in Kazakhstan. They were told to report to Intourist, the Russian agency in charge of their travels. There they were forced to sit in the office of the local Director of Intourist and put up with a long, stern, fatherly lecture on the bad behavior of the United States, culminating with this latest outrage.
Now, there could be more than one possible way of handling an embarrassing experience like that.
If, for example, you identified yourself with the United States of America and felt responsible for what it did in the world, then you might honestly hang your head in shame over what had just taken place. And if you didn’t, then you might shake your head instead and marvel at the foolishness of the idiots presently in power in Washington. You might pass the time wondering how the equivalent scene involving a stray Russian in Dallas might play out if a Soviet spy plane had just been shot down over Kansas City on the Fourth of July. Or you might sit there in silence waiting for the lecture to finally be over so that you could get on with life.

Options one and two strike me as repugnant. I would probably opt for that last choice, always keeping in mind the ancient family wisdom that Commissars can kill you.

Heinlein did none of these things. Instead, he went ballistic.
As long as the lecture seemed one more canned lecture, he was able to tolerate it. But when he heard of the U-2 that had just been shot down, Heinlein felt on the spot. He’d known about the U-2 spy plane from his friends in the military, and he’d been aware that reconnaissance flights had been going on over the Soviet Union for four years. And now we’d been caught — although he didn’t believe the Russians when they boasted they’d shot the plane down.
But he’d be damned if he was going to apologize for it. As he would declare a few weeks later, “If there is going to be any groveling done it won’t be by me.”
Instead, he counterattacked. He threw a fit. He deliberately turned red. A vein stood out on his forehead, and he began to shout.
As he would say: “It is much better to pretend to lose your temper before things have grown so unbearable that you actually do blow your top; it saves wear and tear on your ulcers and enables you to conduct your tactics more efficiently.”
Heinlein out-shouted the Intourist Director with a list of American grievances against the Soviet Union. Mrs. Heinlein backed him up by pointing out the location of Soviet slave labor camps on a map hanging in the office…
When Heinlein reached the West again, he would feel as though he had escaped from the Soviet Union. While he was still in Finland, and then again several weeks later in Sweden, he would write articles about his experience justifying how he’d behaved.

How terribly unworldly of him. What a bad, bad man.
Say, is Switzerland a polite society? I’m just asking.